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“Say No to 24/7 alcohol”: Rule changes unanimously opposed at Liquor Commission

Kari Yoshizawa (left) a Liquor Control staffer other staff members listen to public testimony. A portion of the liquor commission is also shown at the right. All members of the commission were present to hear public testimony.
The Maui Liquor Commission today heard public testimony related to recent changes in the local laws which have the effect of permitting round the clock liquor sales, removing the limitation on the number of local hostess bars allowed to operate (which had previously been capped at 12) and allowing home delivery of alcoholic beverages. These three items were part of a larger package of 27 items which were billed as “housekeeping” measures and were adopted by the commission in February.

As soon as the public became aware of the new rules in media coverage the pushback was immediate.

Mahina Martin was a prime mover in organizing the opposition. In her testimony today before the commission she said, “It was extraordinarily alarming that the vast majority of our community, including the police department, were unaware of significant changes to our laws.

“But what was even more disturbing,” she continued “was discovering the unwillingness (of the commission) to genuinely engage with the public.

Even as I read the minutes of the Feb. 8 commission meeting I found that out of 254 pages recorded as notes, just two paragraphs refer to the change in the 24-hour sales rule. I could not find any discussion of the removal of the cap on hostess bar licenses. And in those two paragraphs, no one inquired about whether or not the Maui Police Department was consulted. No one inquired about the impact to communities. No one inquired about what kind of public input was being sought out.”

Though Martin was the one to initiate the movement to rescind the changes, there was a total of 45 members of the public who signed up to testify. Many of them wore red shirts with the fronts emblazoned with “Say No to 24/7 alcohol”. They jammed the small commission conference room at the David Trask Building in Wailuku and spilled out into the adjacent room. The testimony was unanimously opposed to the three key changes. All those who spoke asked the commission to reconsider its earlier decision. An even larger number of emails in opposition to the changes had been received and continue to pour in according to commission staff.

The in-person opposition testimony which began at 9 a.m. It came from a variety of sources including representatives of law enforcement and a host of non-profit agencies that worked women and children especially those related to sex offenses and domestic violence. Also speaking were representatives of youth organizations, programs against underage drinking, those involved in the rehabilitation of people with drinking problems, alcoholics in recovery. Former Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares gave testimony and most poignant of all were the comments of those who had lost loved ones through accidents involving drunk drivers.

Former Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares was among those who testified against the extended hours.

All members of the commission were present. They were: Chair Robert Tanaka, Leon Bolosan, Roy Umeno, Dana Souza, Nicole DeRego, Brenda Lee, Nane Aluli, Dawn Bicoy. Also attending were Glenn Mukai, director of the Department of Liquor Control, and deputy director Mark Honda, as well as the department’s principal investigator Kari Yoshizawa. Ed Kushi, from the County Office of Corporation Counsel, attended to give the commission legal advice. Only members of the commission can vote to revoke the changes.

Before the meeting went into executive session at noon, chair Tanaka asked Martin if the three points raised in her written communications were the only issues she had with the total of 27 items that had been changed. Martin replied affirmatively that those three were the focus of community efforts and asked the chair to clearly and rapidly signal the action the commission intended to take.

Tanaka replied that the commission would meet with its legal advisor Kushi to discuss the testimony that had been received and also to find out if a partial reversal was possible and how it could be accomplished. Commissioner Dawn Bicoy thanked Martin for raising the issues and bringing the matter forcefully to their attention for reconsideration.

A second commission meeting is scheduled for tomorrow (May 10) in which more public testimony will be heard and additional discussion with Martin will take place.

The action taken by Martin and those favoring restoring those three points to their former status are only part of community resistance to the changes.

Mahina Martin, a community activist who spearheaded the opposition to the rule changes, is shown here giving public testimony. She later answered questions from chair Tanaka.

Marge Schaefer, a Kihei resident was one of the many to testify today. In addition, she has formed an ad hoc group called The Committee for Responsible Liquor Control. This organization represented by attorney Lance Collins has filed a lawsuit in the 2nd circuit court asking the court to invalidate the commission’s earlier action.

Reached by phone this morning Schaefer said that the public testimony today and the upcoming legal action represent different aspects of the same sentiment. The Martin action seeks to restore the prior rules internally by administrative action, while the Schaefer suit seeks to have the action voided by the court.

Chairman Tanaka said the action the commission intends to take should be known by mid-day tomorrow, though it may take longer to go through the necessary procedural steps. Speaking for the Department of Liquor Control deputy director Honda said he could not comment due to the pending legal action.

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About Susan Halas

Susan Halas is a Senior Political Contributor at MAUIWatch. She has followed Hawaii politics since 1976 when she moved to the Valley Isle. She was formerly a staff writer for the Maui News as well as other local print and digital publications.

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